Is it time to grow up our device management ways?

Posted By The Embedded Ninja

Ninjas rarely let go of secrets of the universe. It’s universally looked down upon, much like the way a magician explains how he levitated himself or cut his girlfriend in half.

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret – everyone has to grow up at some point. It’s true. Little kids turn into grown-ups. Baby ninjas (or binjas) grow up to be adult ninjas (though you’d never know since you never see them). Pups grow into full size shedding dogs. Even seedlings turn into the beans that are roasted for the cup of coffee that inspired this blog post. And before you ask, yes, indeed, The Embedded Ninja enjoys his own cup of coffee.

Upon landing at one of the multiple airports I travel to in pursuit of my customer interactions, I spent the first sixty seconds upon reaching the terminal searching for a coffee stand. I placed an order and paid my way (on an embedded POS system incidentally), and ninja-ed my way over to the pick-up area. Glancing around the terminal, the first thing I saw blew my mind and I had to grab a snapshot. You can see the snapshot for yourself. Let’s break this down...

WE-ATMHere was a technician standing in front of an ATM machine that was under obvious repair. On the ATM’s screen was some command-line text executing on what appeared to be an XP-based system (most likely embedded based). The technician was on the phone and appeared to be waiting – on hold, for the other party to do something, something else. But that’s not the surprising thing – the fact that he’s playing solitaire on a separate laptop device is what blew my mind. Do you see why?

If you consider for a moment what this technician is doing, perhaps you’ll see it the way I do. The customer that owns that ATM device discovered that it had some type of issue requiring repair. Regardless of the issue, a call had to come into the company indicating the issue. That call then resulted in a field dispatch to address the issue. Some time later (hours, days, weeks, who knows) a technician shows up on site prepared for what might be anything from a total system failure to broken buttons to a system outage. And here I find him in the midst of his diagnosis and rectification – playing solitaire – a game designed to give you something to do when you’re bored. The same boredom you might encounter if you were on hold with someone that was remoting into the system to diagnose an issue, update software, or something else that this you couldn’t do in person.

And right here is what I see most often in customers time and time again – a head-to-head battle between processes that are decades old and technology solutions that no longer adhere to those processes. We have the old process – field dispatch – competing with more modern technology – remote control. But even that solution is a decade old.

This begs the question – is it time to grow up our device management ways? Do customers need to continue spending money on supporting old processes (like unnecessary field dispatch)? Could they save money leveraging the same technology they’ve been using in datacenters and corporate environments for years – centralized management and monitoring?

ATM devices, just like a POS device, kiosk, thin client, MRIs and a slew of other devices, have been following us for years, maturing in capability often faster than the processes that surround them. In this case, could the ATM company have used available monitoring technology to detect out of compliance scenarios? For example, hard drive issues, software or OS issues, incorrect buttons, nonfunctioning security camera, etc. That monitoring could have occurred quite rapidly, in some cases proactively, issuing a response such as a software or firmware update, powering off of device, service ticket for a scheduled service request *before* it breaks, all without the intervention of a technician. And in the case of the service request that’s scheduled, the monitoring tool would have all the information so the technician could be very effective while onsite, leading to a shorter dispatch, more uptime to the device, lower costs to the customer, and ultimately less time to play solitaire. We all know a bored employee is not a fully utilized employee.

In the Windows Embedded world we’ve seen this approach of management and monitoring tools changing the face of the devices we all depend on day in and day out. Through concepts like Intelligent Systems and technologies like those found in Windows 7, System Center Configuration Manager and Operations Manager, customers have the ability to mature their servicing processes to meet their cost savings, uptime, and customer service needs.

We all know devices have issues from time to time – even the most hardened and ruggedized. Consider gas pumps or stop lights – devices we take for granted every day. How much money and time do you think it costs to get on a cherry-picker to fiddle with a stop light? How much money do you think is lost when a gas pump can’t pump gas?

Let’s all grow up a bit. Let’s take the training wheels off our management processes and technology and let them run at full speed. Let’s shed the love handles of decades old of technology to slimmer, faster systems and tools. Let’s let go of solitaire to fill our unnecessary boredom. Besides, Xbox 360 and Kinect are way more fun…

Behind the scenes, making sure all is right with the world of devices

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